DAVID KINDLER, AN ENTHUSIAST’S ENTHUSIAST
This month I’m starting a new series that will profile road cycling enthusiasts, those dedicated roadies among us who ride more days a week than not, rack up a few thousand miles or kilometers each year, and put a lot of time and money into a pursuit we love that provides a healthy outlet and creates unique relationships.
David Kindler, a rider I consider an “enthusiast’s enthusiast,” is my choice this first Enthusiast Profile.
While I’ve come to know David over the last few years during group rides with the Monsters in The Basement cycling club out of Concord, Massachusetts, we sat down at a coffee shop and talked one on one for the first time for this profile.
What I thought might be a 45-minute discussion at 7 AM before heading off to work turned into a fast-moving, two-hour conversation that covered a lot of ground. Kind of like a small group ride, without the sweat and lycra. We could have easily talked for another two hours had our sense of responsibility to get up and earn a living (and give up our table) not kicked in.
We talked little about cycling for the first half hour. Instead, despite what had been a few late nights for David on calls and working through issues with one of his company’s Asian suppliers, he talked quite energetically about the video display products start-up he and a few partners had built and reshaped with the changes in technology and markets over the last ten years.
Soon after he began talking about cycling, it was clear that riding was both central to his path in life and a key relief value to the normal stresses he and many enthusiasts face in their non-cycling worlds.
THE MEASURE OF AN ENTHUSIAST
Let me just establish that David is a true road cycling enthusiast, at least as I define it. He rides a whole lot, about 5,000 miles (8,000 km) a year for the last five years that he’s been tracking it on Strava.
Except for 2015. He covered 9,300 miles (15,000 km) that year.
That was the year he rode with a Trek Tours group of 20 roadies across the US from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, a distance of 3,700 miles (nearly 6000 km) in 45 days, with only 3 rest days along the way. Day after day after day of 100 mile rides through every kind of terrain and conditions you can imagine.
Yeah, I’m shaking my head while writing this, same as you probably are reading it, despite having heard and read all about his cross-country trip when he was doing it. The challenge doesn’t sound any less daunting no matter how many times I try to process the though of it.
Here’s how David highlighted his trip in the epilogue of the blog he wrote to capture the experience.
“My friends ask ‘what was the hardest day, the best day, the worst weather, etc.?’ For a trip of this magnitude, there were many bests and worsts. Among the toughest standouts for me – the challenges of climbing Big Horn Pass hour after hour at steep grade and high elevation with wind and cold, the nothing-left-in the-tank-day after Big Horn, the hail pummeling at the top of Lolo Pass, and the strength-sapping winds across South Dakota and Iowa- with that morning of I-can’t-see-but-six-inches-in-front-of-my-face stinging rain, and the three days of cold rain in New York. And, how could I forget to mention baking in the sun for endless hours as we rode the flat-tire-producing interstate shoulders out West! Or those early smoky rides in Idaho? Or the days when I blew it with poor layering decisions on the day’s clothing! The list goes on…but these are rides that build character!”
As hard as the ride was, the training he did to prepare for it and the anticipation and uncertainty about how well he would do were nearly as hard. David did 4200 miles (6800 km), an amount that would be a big year for most of us, in the 8 months leading up to his 3700-mile trip, just to get ready.
He would do a hard 50-mile (80 km) group ride on a Saturday morning with his buddies, say bye when it was over, and then immediately do another 50 miles (80 km) on his own. Then do another long ride the next day, and the next. You get the picture.
A CONTINUING THREAD
David isn’t late to cycling. He grew up and began riding in Pittsburgh, PA where the city’s hills make for fun downhill riding. He doesn’t much remember going up them. Most kids wouldn’t focus on that part. But the downhills, and the day he had his brakes set up wrong… That’s a story he hasn’t forgotten.
He also remembers, quite vividly in David’s fact-filled retelling, his other bike trip across the US. He and an MIT classmate decided that they just had to do it. After graduating in 1978, they went from Seattle to Boston with 60 lb (27 kg) packs on their bikes and averaged about 10 mph (16 kph) during the trip.
That was a while ago. You do the math. And he’s been riding a lot in the years in between. Averaged 15mph for the 2015 trip.
This year David rode with a half dozen friends on a Marmott Tours trip through the classic cols of the Alps – the Iseran, Telegraphie, Galibier, Alpe d’Huez and Lacet de Montvernier – intersecting with 2017 edition of the Tour de France along the way.
LEADING WITH JOY
What makes David an enthusiast’s enthusiast though is the leadership he brings and the joy of riding he shares in the groups he rides with. In addition to his own individual training, group riding and touring, for years David has been a volunteer leader most Saturday mornings from April to September of an 18-19 mph (29-31 kph) club ride of 10 to 30 fellow enthusiasts that rolls 40-50 miles (65-80 km) through hilly terrain west of Boston.
While that sounds like hard work (and it is), David really enjoys it. He revels in creating new routes and modifying old ones to keep things interesting. He makes sure the pace is one that everyone is staying with by pulling up front, checking in with riders in the middle, catching up riders off the back and then zooming up to the front again to make sure riders make the next turn.
It’s amazing how few who’ve ridden in the group David leads over the years have ever thought to buy or bring a GPS unit. And those of us who have trust what David says more than what we see on our screens.
He speaks with riders about safety issues and road hazards during a ride in a relaxed way, talks about technique or gear in an “I want to learn and share” fashion, encourages struggling climbers up long, steep sections, and welcomes the friendly competition and collaboration of equally strong or stronger riders who help him lead the group.
All of this makes David an enthusiast magnet, getting and sharing energy and joy with his group of riders. They become better and love the cycling experience more than it seems they could on their own or in a group David isn’t leading.
And yet David’s reasons for riding and leading a group sound similar to what I’ve heard many cyclists say.
“I get the feeling of freedom when I’m riding and the sense of accomplishment riding brings,” David told me. “It takes my mind off of everything else. When I come back from riding, whatever might have been on my mind before is gone. There’s a mental and physical thing that happens … there’s pleasure in that.”
I get a lot of satisfaction out of the group experience. There’s sort of a chemistry that happens from the group dynamics. It’s always a slightly different mix and it’s interesting how that works. I reflect back after a ride and say ‘what was I thinking?’ It leaves you in a completely different place.”
A GEAR DESIGNER
When it comes to cycling gear, he calls himself a “gadget guy”. While many of us enthusiasts are rather nerdy about gear, David seems to be far more than a gadget guy.
He’s an MIT trained mechanical engineer who, as an undergraduate, worked with professors who received grant money for all sorts of interesting cycling related projects. He did one where he designed and built a prototype of a wheel that integrated the function of the rim, spokes, and hub flanges, all made of Kevlar fiber that was impregnated in resin and then layed-up over a mandrel in repeated passes at circumferential and angled orientations to build up the needed strength and tension.
This was all years before carbon fiber materials, let alone today’s carbon rims were commercialized. David laughs when he tells me that he and his professor, David Gordon Wilson, very well known in the research of human powered vehicles and especially bicycles, decided not to try to commercialize their design because they thought there wouldn’t be a market for $1,000 wheels.
He also produced a frame from 6061 aerospace aluminum as part of an elective course actually called “The Aluminum Frame Bicycle.” (I knew I went to the wrong school!) He recently took it apart and made it a single speed with a White Industries hub, refitted the bottom bracket housing to make way for a modern one, added a Chris King headset, a carbon fork, and a few other components to make it roadworthy again.
“It’s fun to ride,” he tells me through his characteristic smile.
If you ever meet David on the road, ask him about it. Your mind will be taken off whatever hard riding you are doing for at least 10 miles as he tells you the story.
I could tell you more that he shared with me about other projects and things he’s learned over the years about bike gear design and performance that still hold up today but… do you have a couple of hours?
SELECTIVELY BUYING INTO THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY
Despite (or perhaps because of) David’s engineering background, a career building up some pretty impressive product development and commercialization chops, and his far more than a “gadget guy” experience with cycling gear, he picks and chooses the cycling developments he buys into.
He was early into road disc brake bikes and bought a Trek Boone cyclocross bike shortly after his last cross country trip. It serves as his main road bike. He loves the consistency and confidence that disc brakes give him going in and out of downhill corners and the comfort and versatility of the cross frame geometry.
He rode all those thousands of miles cross country in 2015 on electronic Di2 shifters but prefers the tactile feel of mechanical ones and uses an Ultegra 6800 groupset on his Boone. He tells me it’s “better than the Dura-Ace 7800” he used to have. I agree with him about that but would have debated the pros and cons of electronic and mechanical shifting (my comparison chart here) if we’d had more time.
David also rides a 2008 Cervelo R3, though only occasionally since he bought the Boone. He describes it as “superlight and responsive”. But, based on the engineering discussion that immediately followed him telling me that he owned it, I’ve concluded he bought it because he was so impressed with the way the company’s founders were first to build an aero bike and an entire company around the principles that round tubes were the least aerodynamic shapes. This was something, David added, that he had learned years ago in that college class on bike building and that established frame companies had ignored, ending up coming late or missing out on the aero bike market.
David is also quite passionate about the way wheels are marketed, more so than about the wheels themselves. It really irritates him that wheels are sold on weight rather than their rotating inertia. This from a guy who built a torsional pendulum he says he still has in his basement that can easily measure and compare a wheel’s rotating inertia.
Curiously, he doesn’t get excited about carbon fiber wheels, despite, or perhaps because of his undergraduate wheel building experience creating a Kevlar fiber one. “Aluminum is the best thermally dissipative material there is,” he tells me, and carbon wheels are essentially just “glue and plastic”.
He does think the combination of carbon fiber wheels with disc brakes is the best solution.
David bought two sets of alloy upgrade wheels for his Boone, a top of the line Bontrager that he uses for the road and the next tier down Bontrager that he puts knobby tires on for cross. He can’t even recall exactly what the model names are.
He did remember that his Cervelo came with a set of Mavic Ksyriums (which it seems were the stock wheels for 99% of bikes at that time) and he bought and used to ride a 45mm deep set of Reynolds carbon tubular wheels. He doesn’t use the Reynolds on group rides anymore because he doesn’t want to hold everyone up if he flats.
I noted his relative lack of enthusiasm for wheels and gear in general and asked him why.
“As I’ve ridden more and more, I’ve cared less and less about the gear. My radical over-generalization is that all bikes are good now. Everything [that goes on a bike] has gotten better.”
After reading my review favoring the Wahoo Bolt over the Garmin 520, the latter which he owns and the former which he is now strongly considering switching to, he came back to me with a series of nerdy enthusiast questions.
My favorite was “Can I manually put the 25,000 miles I’ve ridden on my Garmin on the Bolt odometer?”
That’s David for you. I guess he is more of a gadget guy than a gear geek after all.
OPPORTUNISTICALLY LOOKING FORWARD
When I asked David what was next for him, this enthusiast’s enthusiast, this rider who sees cycling through the professional lens of a product engineer and the personal perspective of all that cycling does to calm and thrill him, he came back with an intriguing answer that was more about his life’s path than his next cycling tour (probably New Zealand).
I’m kind of opportunistic,” he said. “I latch on to interesting things as they come up. I really like finding situations that combine my experience connecting people and product, be it on a bike or in a design company or as a consultant working here or in Asia or connecting everything in between. A situation that combines my engineering expertise with building innovative products and companies. Who knows? Maybe my next opportunity could be in the cycling industry.
With that, David lets out a big laugh and we both knew it was a good time to break off our conversation, get to work, and look forward to the next ride.
If you’d like me to share some of your interesting experiences and backstory as a road cycling enthusiast for an upcoming Enthusiast Profile, email some highlights to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get back to you. Thanks.